Wake versus Waken versus Awake versus Awaken

While editing an eBook, I stumbled over the “wake versus awake” dilemma. The sentence was “he’ll go into a sleep from which he’ll never waken.” This was my first suggestion. Then I stopped and thought: should I have used “awaken?” I thought all three words meant the same thing. Not quite – each word has different slivers of meaning. I looked up awaken in the dictionary and got this definition: cause to stop sleeping, rouse from a deep sleep. It carried a literary meaning, too, so awaken wasn’t the word I wanted. Didn’t think it would get so confusing.

Let’s look at the four words and what they really mean. It gets more interesting when you examine their past tenses. All of these words can be used transitively or intransitively. I’ve used some of my best curse words struggling through this conundrum. Is it wakened or woken? I sometimes wish I had a cheat sheet for all my issues with grammar.

Events in Barbara Custer's City of Brotherly Death caused the zombies to awaken.

Has this zombie awakened, woke, or wakened? Either way, he’s dangerous.

Awaken (past: awakened, have awakened)

Transitive: rouse from a deep sleep. Example: The onslaught of zombies awakened Alexis’ warrior instinct.

Intransitive: to arise or spring into existence. Example: I awakened during the night when I heard the scratching.

Awake (past: awaked or awoke; have awaked, have awoken)

Transitive: To rouse (someone or something) from sleep. The alarms awaked (or awoke) him from a deep sleep.

Intransitive: To come out of the state of sleep. Example: The zombie awakes and he’s getting hungry. Very hungry.

Wake (past: waked or woke; have waked or woken)

Transitive: to make alert. Example:  The shushing sounds of the balloons woke her gently.

Intransitive: to stop sleeping or remain awake. When the zombie woke, he bit the nearest person.

Waken (wakened or have wakened)

Transitive: to rouse (a person or animal) from sleep. Example: The poisonous chemical wakened the zombie.

Intransitive: to wake; stop sleeping; to become awake. Alexis wakened during the night after a bad dream.

Looking at these definitions, I have my choice of verbs. I went with “waken,” but I could have used “awaken” or “wake.” Wake, wake up, and waken are the most commonly used words to describe rousing a sleeper. Awake and awaken carry a literary and theologian connotation that wake and waken does not. Examples: The teacher’s methods awakened creativity within me. The sinner awakened to his misdeeds. Another important difference: for past tense, always use the weak standard with awaken and waken. So it’s awakened, have awakened, but never awokened; and wakened, have wakened, respectively.

Do you find yourself struggling with look-alike words?

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